Five years ago today , marks the release of a film that will probably never be equalled. In development for over twenty years, this particular project would prove to be one of the greatest challenges ever faced by the late genius director Stanley Kubrick. With a deep fondness for robots and the many possibilities that can result from their artificial intelligence, Mr. Kubrick would endlessly wrestle with the ideas, concepts, and themes that grew out of the original short story, Super-Toys Last All Summer Long written by Brian W. Aldiss, that had caught his attention and imagination. The evolution of this unfinished masterwork from the reclusive artist, tentatively titled "A.I." about a robot boy programmed to love that longed to be a real boy, would involve some of the greatest minds working directly and indirectly with the film and robotic industries. Everyone from Hans Moravec of the Carnegie Mellon University Robotics Institute, to the brilliant author Arthur C. Clarke were consulted, in an attempt to fully realize Mr. Kubrick's dream for this film. Along the way a close personal friendship was started with another equally genius director, Steven Spielberg, who was also consulted. The untimely death of Mr. Kubrick in March of 1999, could have been the end of such an ambitious dream. However, Mr. Kubrick's immediate family approached Mr. Spielberg directly, with a personal request that he finish Stanley's last symphony, and of course Mr. Spielberg accepted, and could think of no better way to honour his friend. Thus, the legacy of A.I. was born... born from a place of dreams.
On 29-June-2001, that dream was fully realised and "A.I. Artificial Intelligence" began the next phase of its legacy, as the film premiered and washed over the conscience of the film loving public. Panned by some, immediately recognised as a masterpiece by others, the film would start the way most every work of genius usually begins, and this was never more true than with a Stanley Kubrick film. Given the initial reaction, I think it is safe to say that Mr. Spielberg's sensibilities were in perfect sync. with the vision and intent Mr. Kubrick had for A.I., as the echo from the initial reaction to 2001: A Space Odyssey resonated with the opening reaction for this film. But with time comes thoughtful reflection, and even in the five brief years since, support and the depth of appreciation for A.I. is slowly starting to be heard. The telling legacy of any masterpiece is the strong emotional reaction it invokes, as any great work of art should make you feel something. It is easy to see with the many varied reactions, the emotions felt at least leave you with something to think about... and more often than not, a desire to discuss and explore the depth of vision found in the film. Five years since, those discussions continue with clarity and passion.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and already the legacy of A.I. can be seen reflected in other films that wish to pay a subtle homage to the inspired genius of this film. Of course there were many homages to previous Stanley Kubrick films used by Mr. Spielberg in creating A.I., and the ease in which they were incorporated reveals their true "classic" status, as they only serve to enhance the film. With A.I. being a reflection of the classic Pinocchio story, it is only natural that the recent (2004) CGI animated feature, Pinocchio 3000, would want to pay homage to this particular film. Set in the distant future, P3K more closely follows the well known Pinocchio story, only instead of a wooden boy, Geppetto creates a robot boy. As we can see from just a few examples, their respect and inspiration from A.I. Artificial Intelligence can easily be seen....
Perhaps the greatest personal legacy left from this film, is that it has forever captured one of the greatest performances by a young actor the world has ever seen. If there is one constant about A.I., it is the almost universal praise that Haley Joel Osment received for his stunning, brilliant, and almost impossible performance as the robot boy David in the film. When Mr. Spielberg agreed to complete the project, he knew there was only one young actor that was even capable of carrying almost the entire weight of the film. The demands of the role, and with David in practically every scene, would prove to be a formidable task for even the most seasoned adult actor. This is why Mr. Spielberg has stated time and again when speaking about the role of David that, "...Haley Joel Osment was my first and last choice." The level of confidence and respect given by Mr. Spielberg toward Haley speaks volumes about how highly reagarded Haley is in the industry. When Steven Spielberg says something like that... everyone hears it.
Spending months just preparing for the role, the production would summon every ounce of creative energy and talent that Haley possessed in order to bring the robotic character of David to life. As the long and intense production schedule wore on, it is not unreasonable to guess that he certainly began to feel the full weight of the huge production on his tiny 12-year-old shoulders.
But the intense passion he has for the art would help carry him through to the end. When it was over, everyone knew they had just been witness to something truly special. There can be no doubt that Haley's performance in A.I. Artificial Intelligence is one of his greatest, and one of the best performances given by any actor. Criminally ignored by the Academy, which they still have to answer for, the amount of critical acclaim Haley would receive was some of the best ever bestowed on any young actor. One example of far too many to list, was written by John Demetry...
A couple of examples as evidence of such an open and honest performance can be seen when Monica abandons David in the forest... a scene so heart wrenching that it has been said even Haley's own mom cannot watch the scene because his performance is so devastating and real. The best would probably have to be when David first imprints on Monica after she reads the seven code words... his transformation is so subtle and yet so complete, and he conveys so much emotion with such nuance, and all without speaking a word. Acknowledged or not, Haley's performance in A.I. truly is one of his "Academy" performances.
Ultimately, the lasting legacy from that unparalleled performance is solidified with only the deepest respect. So complete was Haley's portrayal of a robot boy that could love, it can be said that David will certainly open up a realm of possibilities and questions as far as future robotics is concerned. In honour of Haley's performance that made David so real and inspiring, and to serve as a lasting testament, on 21-June-2006 David was inducted into the Carnegie Mellon University Robot Hall of Fame. The Robot Hall of Fame recognizes excellence in robotics technology worldwide and honors the fictional and real robots that have inspired and made breakthrough accomplishments in robotics, and to call attention to the increasing contributions from robots to human society.
David now joins the ranks of other so honoured cinematic robotic legends like HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Maria from Metropolis, and Gort from The Day the Earth Stood Still. For the induction ceremony, and speaking on behalf of David, it was Sherry Turkle, professor of the social studies of science and technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and founder and director of MITs Initiative on Technology and Self, writes about A.I. and David that...
So much more can be written about the legacy of A.I. that the true scope of the film will probably never be fully resolved. The remaining three articles presented in this 5th Anniversary tribute are a look back at how it all began, who was involved, and the evolving legacy we have today. I believe the three articles are unique, and have not been made available until now. The three articles were all sourced and retyped from the UK "Film Review" magazine, Special #36 dedicated to Steven Spielberg from September 2001. I intentionally conclude the tribute with the Steven Spielberg article, because I think the final paragraph should finally put the film into the proper context for how it should be received.
If it has been some time since you last viewed the artistic masterpiece that is A.I. Artificial Intelligence, then you really should treat yourself again to the amazing experience. Each viewing can be unique, as a new and subtle meaning will often be revealed. There are so many layers to explore, and the film is like a new story each time you allow yourself to be carried away to that place where dreams are born. It is so fitting and perfect this film opens with, "Those were the years..." as the setup, and to serve as a simple reminder of when reading, "Once upon a time..." would also take you to that place where dreams are born.
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